The Ruzhou Coal Mine Disasters
A coal mine in Ruzhou (China) was flooded and a number of workers were trapped. No, this is not that other story in Guangdong which was broadly covered, including exposés about the people behind the mine. Chances are that you have never heard of the Ruzhou coal mine disaster, for reasons that this post will explain in heartbreaking detail.
I have preserved a copy of the Chinese original below, because it will most likely be deleted. The original Henan Commercial News article was published in Sina.com and has been deleted; my working copy was found at Xici Hutong BBS (and also summarized in Ta Kung Pao). I am grateful to this reporter for publishing that which he/she observed, when there was an obvious easier and more profitable option.
On August 15, an informed source told this newspaper that "a reporter named Yang" from our newspaper received 500 RMB to "keep his mouth shut" from the coal mine owners during the course of covering the Ruzhou mine disaster. Our newspaper reporter went to Ruzhou twice to cover that story within a story, and the results were shocking ...
The informed source told us that many "media reporters" including someone who claimed to be from our newspaper went to Ruzhou to collect their "wages." On July 31, a certain coal mine in Ruzhou was flooded by water. Many of the workers were able to escape, but there were some casualties.
After the incident occurred, the coal mine owner vanished. This incident was covered up. On August 13, the news was spread by an informed source to the provincial media, and that information was distributed around via SMS messages. More than 500 people must have received the news of the coal mine disaster.
On the afternoon of August 14, the "reporters" began to arrive at Ruzhou. The various hotels and guest houses in Ruzhou were full of people who have come to collect their "wages." According to a guest house worker, the guest house always hoped that something might happen at the coal mines. When asked why, the worker who asked to remain nameless said that large numbers of "reporters" will come and they have to live somewhere. They don't have a lot of customers normally, so this was a good thing for business at the guest houses.
On August 15, our reporter went to the local government news department. At the time, the reporter saw three reporters who claimed to have come from the Three Peasants Magazine and they were negotiating with Director Yang of the Ruzhou City Government and another worker. Director Yang asked our reporter to wait and then continued the negotiations. Here is what they said:
Director Yang: Since you are here, what can we say? But the money has already been given out to the first comers.
Media: You watch what happens. It is not easy for us to come here. We have to drive here, and that is expensive enough.
Director Yang: We are friends. We cannot say that we don't welcome you, but we have to follow the regulations.
Media: We know that. This is not our first time here, and this is not the first time that you have an incident here.
Director Yang: It is good that you know. You are from Three Peasants, and there has been already more than a dozen of you here today. How do you explain that? As I said before, since you are here, we can't let you leave empty-handed. How about this? One hundred RMB per person.
Media: Then you are treating us with contempt. We are old enough already and we are tall enough. We can't just take one hundred 100 RMB.
Director Yang: Let me take better care of you. How about 300 RMB per person?
Media: No way.
At this point, Director Yang seemed to be embarrassed to be doing this in front of our reporter. He asked our reporter to wait for him in another room, and that he will be with our reporter as soon as this matter is taken care of.
Ten minutes later, our reporter was asked to return to meet Director Yang. He said, "You came late. Like those who just came and left, we won't let you leave empty-handed." After the reporter signed a receipt, 1,000 RMB was handed over (note: the reporter turned the money in to the newspaper after returning). Director Yang said, "Too many people came here. Yesterday, I took out 200,000 RMB and you just got all that was left." The reporter said that he cannot believe that 200,000 RMB could be given out in one morning, so Director Yang explained in detail about the scene when the "wages" were distributed.
According to Director Yang, there were far too many people looking for their "wages." There were many people in the courtyard of the building. There were more than 60 vehicles with "press" signs in the parking lot. The corridor in the reception hall was full of people. Under these circumstances, they had to rent a large conference room on the second floor. Director Yang said that the conference room was packed, and their workers had to hold batons to beat those who were pushing forward back into line.
According to Director Yang, the media were sorted into classes: those who claimed to come from big central media received 500 to 1,000 RMB; those who claimed to be from various big provincial media got 200 to 500 RMB; and all those city-level media got 200 media; those who are reporting out of their specialties (editor's note: for example, an information technology news reporter should not be covering a mining disaster) or regions received 100 RMB.
During this distribution, there were 480 people from more than 100 media and they received 200,000 RMB. Director Yang said that Ruzhou was just too poor and so they paid out much less than at the mining incidents at the cities of Dengfeng and Xinmi.
When our reporter demanded to see the record of receipt for the so-called reporter named Yang from our newspaper, the request was declined. After persisting, Director Yang finally agreed. Our reporter went with a worker to the first floor of the building, whence the worker produced a stack of papers. Those 20 pages contained the names of reporters from Xinhua, as well as many who claimed to be from central media and posted in Henan province, provincial media, city media, medical news magazines and so on. There were more than 100 media.
Director Yang said that the 200,000 RMB is a loan from the agricultural credit union taken by the town government. As to why it was necessary to borrow money to give to 'reporters', that was because a certain city government leader managed this particular coal mine ...
On August 17, the informed source told our newspaper that the "reporter named Yang" had appeared in Ruzhou to collect his "wages" once again. What was the reason this time?
According to the informed source, another mine in Ruzhou was flooded on August 3 and one person died. After the incident, the government tried to cover up once more. But just like the July 31 case, the information about the mining disaster was sent out by a source and distributed via SMS messages.
On the afternoon of August 17, large numbers of "media reporters" went to Ruzhou again.
At 2pm August 18, our reporter was in Ruzhou again. According to the source, the "wages" will be distributed at the Heavenly Swan Hotel.
In the parking lot of the Heavenly Swan Hotel, there were many cars with "press" signs. Inside the lobby, there were all sorts of people waiting to receive "wages." Then a veteran female "reporter" who just got her money on the sixth floor yelled out, "Go up there quickly to get your money, or else you may miss out."
The reporter went up to the sixth floor and got on the queue to wait for his turn. Periodically, people came out of the conference room and one of those people said aloud, "It is the same as before. 200 RMB. Don't worry. Everyone will get theirs."
A young female reporter who claimed to be from Information Today was standing next to our reporter and said, "I am crossing specialties, so I'll probably only get 100 RMB."
Twenty minutes later, there was some commotion ahead. The conference room door opened, and a worker yelled, "Come on in. Don't push." Our reporter entered along with the others.
It was a large conference room. There was a podium where an official was sitting. The official asked the people to quiet down and then he said, "Earlier, a certain individual from Information Today had gotten on line twice and gotten money twice. I found out and I have confiscated her identification. If any one of you have already received your money, I ask you to leave. Some of you are not pleased and there are even some who want to cause me trouble. Think about it --Do I care? Besides, I am trying to do something good on your behalf. When you come here, you snoop around and you disrupt what we are doing here. The mine has asked us to look after you. In consideration of the fact that we have a good relationship with the mine, we got them to send some money over. Yesterday, when some people got here, they called me to meet with them. Why should I meet with you? You expect me to arrange for accommodations and meals. Why should I arrange accommodations and meals for you? You are the ones who came here to expose the matter. I did not invite you. Besides, how many of you here are actual reporters? The Central Propaganda Department and the Provincial Party Propaganda Department have issued orders to forbid you from reporting this. I have just distributed money to more than 100 people. After you people get your money, you will not call the mine after this. This matter is closed as of now."
After the lecture, there was an orderly distribution of "wages." Three people would approach the podium at a time and get registered. Then one worker would give them their money: people who are crossing areas receive 100 RMB and general media 200 RMB. After receiving the money, they leave.
The young female reporter sitting next to our reporter took out an empty form, filled it out and went up to the podium. The reporter saw her receive 200 RMB.
Another male "reporter" was challenged on the authenticity of his documents. The worker yelled, "Why is the media from Luoyang here?" And then this reporter from a certain newspaper in Luoyang was told to sit aside.
At 3pm, a male "reporter" got up to the podium and the worker asked the "reporter" for his papers. The reporter laughed and said, "I don't have to show any papers. My face is proof enough." Under the arbitration of the official, the man received 100 RMB. But the man refused to leave. Since there were so few people left by now, they gave him another RMB and then he left.
After everybody has left, the Ruzhou official told our reporter that more than 300 people have received more than 100,000 RMB since this morning. He said that fewer than one-third of them were real reporters. In spite of his, they cannot afford to cross the 'fake' reporters. Why is that? He said that 'fake' reporters are connected to real ones; just because the 'fake' reporters cannot publish anything, there is nothing to stop them from giving it to a real reporter and that would be a headache.
As for the mining disaster itself, the official claims to be quite unclear. The reporter said, "Aren't you concerned about getting into trouble by giving money out this way?" The official said, "We hate these 'fake' reporters, but what can be done about them?"
Our newspaper verified that the person named Yang Rong who came to collect money twice under the name of Henan Commercial News is not a reporter or worker for our newspaper.
On September 17, 2005, Henan Commercial Press was suspended one month by the Central Propaganda Department and the General Administration of Press and Publication. This is an unprecedented action in this history of journalism in Henan.
The action was taken as a result of an investigation by the central government about the Ruzhou mining disaster reports. The investigating reporters did not have the original list of recepients, he did not have tape recordings and he did not have photographs. The mining authorities completely deny the allegations. Thus, there was no proof.
Consequently, the reporter and the editor-on-duty have been suspended, and the newspaper has been suspended for one month for "inaccurate reporting."
(Nanfang Daily) August 23, 2005.
[translation] Although I have been in the news media for many years and I have seen all sorts of scandalous behavior among bad reporters, that report in the Henan Commercial Daily still left me flabbergasted: there were two mining disasters in Ruzhou (Henan), the reporters sent each other SMS messages and they rushed to the scene not to gather the news but to get into line to get paid for keeping their mouths shut. The local officials distribute the money in person, with a rate card based upon the class of the media (although that is negotiable). In one day, 480 people (including both real and fake reporters) took away 200,000 RMB.
As long as the reporters don't report it, the local officials can cover up the disasters and work with the mine owners to neglect the loss of human lives. This shows how important the news media could be. If the reporters won't report it when the local officials give them money, then this shows how frail and hypocritical the news media are. When the important factor is frail and hypocritical, it is a serious problem. I was flabbergasted because the problem is serious to the point of hopelessness.
These reporters had no professional ethics, never mind human conscience. But I am more curious about whether all the several hundred reporters were like that? Could it be that God choose only fallen souls to become reporters in China?
Thinking about it deeper, you will realize that these reporters lack professional honor. I believe that this was not how it started, especially since reporters can vigorously derive professional honor. When they first started, they have respect, pride and yearning and they imagine that they will become a famous reporter who will expose the truth and defend justice. But very quickly they find that in many places, the genuinely monitoring articles are not published -- in some places, it is even required that the subject of the monitoring must sign off on the articles. Dear readers, think about this -- will those local officials and mine owners who are willing to pay 200,000 to 300,000 RMB for shutting up sign a release got a negative report? But those shameless articles of praise were easy to write and those cowardly reports can be embellished. Slowly, the reporters lose their zeal and direction, they lose any sense of honor and they become just bums.
There are some idealistic reporters who follow their conscience and won't accept money, and they wrote reports in accordance with their professional ethics. But they are often defeated -- even if the reporters cannot be bought off, there is no guarantee that their editors were not bought off; even if the editors were not bought off, there is no guarantee that their directors were not bought off. At the newspaper that I worked in, the following incident occur: a reporter refused a bribe and exposed the lies by a company, but the company spent several hundred thousand RMB in advertising expenditure with the newspaper. But the newspaper was clean, so the company went and took care of someone even higher up and the story was killed with one phone call. The newspaper and the reporter exclaimed: "If we knew that this was going to happen any way, we should have taken the money!"
From the viewpoint of a "rational economic person," if a reporter turns down a bribe, he can get a professional reputation which leads to a higher income; if a newspaper can be clean, the objectivity and fairness should increase circulation, which should bring in more advertisements. Such being the case, why would the reporter and the newspaper accept bribes, which would work against their long-term economic interests? If they can't do that, then why shouldn't they at least grab the bribes? That is why very few stubborn idealists are left.
I have previously written about the case of the four Xinhua reporters covering the Shaanxi mining disaster versus the Jayson Blair case at the New York Times. The four reporters "seriously violated news reporting ethics and damaged the reputation of Xinhua" and they were severely dealt with. At the New York Times, the executive editor and the managing editor resigned; Jayson Blair was fired by the newspaper, but there are still magazine articles and book deals for him. That was a big joke about modern commercialized society to our media, but there is something serious behind it. That is: people were more interested in the flaws in the editorial system at the newspaper than in the lost soul of an individual. But in China, some people would attribute good things to the superiority of the system and bad things to individual lost souls.
I do not intend to defend the lost souls. No matter what the reason is, shameful acts are shameful and ought to be punished. I want to pay my respect to the reporter who investigated this matter, for it requires great courage to expose the scandals among one's peers.